Mike, September 4, 2019

“It highlighted a misconception that when you ask for help for your mental health, you must be in a really bad place.”

I recently watched a Talksport interview between James Acaster and Alan Brazil that was posted on the Time to Change Facebook page. The video was very powerful and enlightening.

Alan Brazil's reaction to James' mention of contacting the Samaritans and reaching out for help said so much about society's views of mental illness. 

It highlighted a misconception that when you ask for help for your mental health, you must be in a really bad place, and if you don't need to contact the Samaritans you must be ok.

When you show up for work, you must be ok.
When you socialise, you must be ok.
When you put in the extra hours, you must be ok. 
When you've got a smile on your face, you must be ok.
When you're signed off with stress but you manage to return to work, you must be ok.
When you take on that extra pressure, you must be ok.
When you keep battling on, you must be ok.
When you can't get into work but you're ok to work from home, you must be ok.
When you put enforced projects first, you must be ok.
When you put on a brave face in a welfare check with HR, you must be ok.
When you visit the company doctor wearing a full suit of armour to hide your true challenges to protect your job, you must be ok.

When the doctor sees the anxiety and fear and desperation in your eyes, through the tiny slit that you've left exposed, and he diagnoses your mental illness...maybe you're not ok. But because you aren't suicidal, because the diagnosis threatens to expose the failings of others, and because your awareness brings increased bravery, some still think that you must be ok.

My story in a nutshell: I was diagnosed with stress in 2012, got back to work, and thrown straight from the frying pan into the fire. A pre-existing heart condition flared up in 2013, 4 years of stress-induced and anxiety-fuelled palpitations. Finally, in 2017, when the project work subsided and the triggers weren't work-related, they realised I wasn't ok. Thanks to the company doctor, my diagnosis changed everything and probably saved my life.

Looking back, I didn't know how powerful poor mental health could be - which led to me not taking care of myself, putting on a brave face, smiling through the pain, clothing my demons and battling on.

Now I'm more aware of its impact, I'm more able to recognise its triggers, when it is trying to regain a foothold in my mind, when I need to take action and the steps I can take to prevent escalation.

But also I find that I'm constantly "topping up" my resistance, not just when I'm starting to feel low. By building up that buffer it has less chance of causing devastating flare-ups.

Gentle exercise.
Getting in touch with nature.
Taking time to rest. 
Improved sleep hygiene. 
Better diet.
Greater self-care. 

And now my mental well-being has improved so has my physical health, and I'm able to take on more responsibility, more tasks and work better.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.